CHEOPS is crucial in our search for planets that might harbour life because it can transmit exoplanets with intriguing atmospheric compositions to more potent telescopes like JWST.

CHEOPS will continue its exoplanet-studying mission, which includes choosing “golden target” worlds for the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) closer examination, for at least three more years, with a potential extension until 2029, according to a March 9 statement from the European Space Agency (ESA).

The Characterizing Exoplanet Satellite, or CHEOPS, launched in December 2019 from ESA’s spaceport in French Guiana with the mission of studying planets with sizes between those of Earth and Neptune as they transit bright stars. However, it has achieved remarkable results with objects much larger than this size range.

The mission has advanced the study of exoplanets beyond simple detection, allowing for a more thorough examination of these planets’ atmospheres as well as precise measurements of their size and shape.

CHEOPS is crucial in our search for planets that might harbour life because it can transmit exoplanets with intriguing atmospheric compositions to more potent telescopes like JWST. CHEOPS consortium leader Willy Benz, an emeritus professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, declared in a statement that “in this regard, the mission has been extremely successful.

The CHEOPS precision has exceeded all expectations and allowed us to characterise some of the most interesting exoplanets,” the authors write.

The discovery that the 2014-first discovered gas giant WASP-103 b has a distended, flattened shape resembling a rugby ball is an example of CHEOPS’ contribution to science. By analysing the brightness decrease the planet causes as it transits the face of its star, the ESA spacecraft was able to make this determination in 2021.

It was revealed that WASP-103 b’s compressed shape is thought to be the result of tidal interactions with its parent star, and this was the first time an exoplanet’s shape had been so precisely determined.

Additionally, CHEOPS has had an effect locally. A ring of dust has been found to surround Quaoar, a dwarf planet in our solar system, just this year as a result of observations from the spacecraft. The ring is unique because it is located farther from its parent body than any ring previously found, which casts doubt on theories about how such structures are created.

CHEOPS’s primary science mission was initially only supposed to last until September 2023, or three and a half years, but the ESA said the spacecraft is in excellent condition after spending more than three years in Earth orbit.

Throughout this time, CHEOPS has handled the challenges of space admirably, enduring cosmic ray bombardment and high-energy radiation while its operating team on Earth worked to keep the spacecraft operational throughout the worldwide pandemic. There are still lots of fascinating opportunities for CHEOPS to observe.

For instance, the mission team wants to find the first exomoon, which is a moon orbiting a planet outside of the solar system. Exomoons are difficult to detect because of their small size and the faint signature they leave as they pass in front of a star, but the CHEOPS team believes the spacecraft is sensitive enough to make a detection of this kind.

“The capabilities of CHEOPS have barely been scratched. With the satellite, there is a lot more science that can be done, and we anticipate investigating it during the extension,” “said Benz. Scientists are curious to see what unexpected findings CHEOPS will present next, but it is already clear that the system will keep making new discoveries for years to come.